Wednesday, March 24th Isaiah 50:4-6

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. Isaiah 50:4-6

Who is this “teacher”, who is the “I” in the first verse?

This section of Isaiah falls within the portion that was written after the people of Israel had already been in Babylon for a significant period of time. The armies of Cyrus of Persia had defeated the Babylonians and therefore had become the new “big bully on the block.” Cyrus wasn’t particularly interested in the plight of the Jewish captives-become-refugees so the door was open for their return to what was left of Jerusalem.

The mood of the writing that shifts from purely “What did we do wrong to get here?” to “Who do we thank for setting us free?”. The Bible, the written Word, is about capturing the experience of the faithful in written form and in this shifting of perspectives it helps us see the movement in our own lives from bondage to freedom.

So again the question, “Who is this teacher in the first verse?”

Some would say that the community of Israel, the people of God, in their shared experience, are the teacher. They are the ones who capture God’s will in words in their sacred writings. They sustain the weary with their faith. They value learning as a spiritual discipline. They have learned through painful experience the hard consequences of rebellion. They have suffered the pain inflicted on them by their captors.

Clearly the earliest disciples of Jesus saw Jesus in these verses. With the poetry of Isaiah planted deeply within them, Isaiah’s words immediately came to mind in their reflections on the suffering and humiliation that Jesus endured. They heard stories of the way that Jesus quietly endured all that was done to him, without complaint or fighting back. Jesus was the teacher, the obedient one, the comforter of the weary.

Today, the writer of Isaiah makes all of this available to us. He brings us into the history of Israel. He reminds us of the language that the faithful have used to remember Jesus. He brings US hope, rest and a gentle reminder that following Jesus means carrying crosses. For we too often open ourselves to otherwise avoidable suffering because we are people of faith.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, in every age we hear your Word in new ways. Today, when we find ourselves still living in bondage – to sin, to debt, to war, to idols – we long as well for words that bring comfort in our weariness and inspire us to follow with courage and focus. Thank you for not giving up on us, for delivering us from evil, and for guarding us in the face of worldly opposition. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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